Back From Boston

I flew out to Boston on Wednesday and returned to San Francisco on Thursday. I stayed across the street from the Citgo sign at the Hotel Commonwealth. In a perfect touch, a picture of the ’41 Red Sox hovered above the desk in my room, which also contained a copy of Roger Angell’s Game Time. Of course, there was the inevitable book shopping. I checked out Trident on Newbury Street along with the Harvard Bookstore and the COOP in Harvard Square. Unfortunately, it appears that Wordsworth on Brattle Street shut down back in October; another death comes to the independent bookstore, although their children’s bookstore is still around. Anyway, I picked up Alberto Moravia’s Boredom, Gerald Edelman’s Wider Than Sky, and the second issue of n+1. Boredom is excellent and funny and sometimes ridiuculous through 75 pages so far.

Books on Monday

This one is going to cover the month of March as a whole.

Books bought:
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt
What’s Not to Love by Jonathan Ames
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower by Marcel Proust
Nadja by André Breton
Life Stories and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell

Books read:
Old School by Tobias Wolff
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

What about the rest of the new Proust translation?

Aaron Matz explains, in today’s Slate, why the final three volumes of Penguin’s Proust translation will not be published in the States until at least 2018. The British edition, of course, can be obtained from from Amazon.co.uk. Additionally, I saw a complete British edition of In Search of Lost Time at Dutton’s in Brentwood when I was there last fall. Perhaps, people of LA may want to check that out.

Andrew Sean Greer at Cody’s

Andrew Sean Greer gave a reading at Cody’s on Telegraph in Berkeley last night. Unfortunately, it’s ship week at the magazine, and I had to finish my taxes and FAFSA last night, so I couldn’t make it. However, Scott Esposito over at Conversational Reading has an excellent write-up of the event.

Some New Magazine Pieces

In addition to Deborah Solomon’s Times Magazine profile of Jonathan Safran Foer, which is unfortunately getting slammed, we have a few other new magazine pieces of interest to point out:

“Host” by David Foster Wallace in the April issue of The Atlantic.

“The Development Challenge” by Jeffrey D. Sachs in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs.

“Power Couple” by Linda Tischler in the March issue of Fast Company.

And—why not?—a plug for one of my friends: Greg Gipson’s “If all parents are bad parents, what can we children learn from the children of the revolution?” in the April issue of The Believer.

Books on Monday

Books bought:
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Perfect Hour by James L. West III
Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig

Books read:
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Perfect Hour by James L. West III

Jonathan Safran Foer Profile in NYT Magazine

For those of you who don’t have time to read Deborah Solomon’s fun profile of Jonathan Safran Foer in this Sunday’s New York Times Mgazine, here are my favorite quotes from it:

His letters, much like his fiction, are conceived ”as an end to loneliness,” as he once put it in an e-mail message. And while most of the letters in the world — at least the good ones — are similarly written to allay our loneliness, Foer seems haunted by an aching awareness of the probability of defeat. What, in the end, can we really know of one another?

Plans were made to meet outside the main branch of the New York Public Library one Wednesday at noon. That morning, more e-mail messages arrived, the last of which was sent knowingly to an empty desk: ”Writing this from the Kinko’s across the street from the Public Library,” Foer noted. ”It’s 11:41 and I’ve done it again: arrived for a rendezvous more than 15 minutes early. Anyway, I’m assuming you won’t read this until after we meet, which leaves these words hanging in some nowhere time. . . . See you soon, hours ago.”

“Why do I write? It’s not that I want people to think I am smart, or even that I am a good writer. I write because I want to end my loneliness. Books make people less alone. That, before and after everything else, is what books do. They show us that conversations are possible across distances.”

“I always write out of a need to read something, rather than a need to write something.”

Do Blogs Sell Books?

I have finally jumped on the Home Land bandwagon and started reading Sam Lipsyte’s latest novel this morning. The book has received much coverage in the blogosphere, a topic recently addressed in Newsday.

Jonathan Lethem in Feb 28 New Yorker

I flipped immediately to Jonathan Lethem’s essay, “The Beards,” upon receiving this week’s New Yorker in the mail. A series of riffs on art and music and books and movies and loss, I found it intoxicatingly good. I constantly admire Lethem for his unguarded fanatacism about the works of art that he loves, his devotion to those that ultimately dissapoint, can only disappoint.

A couple samples from the essay, from which the title of Lethem’s new collection, The Disappointment Artist is drawn:

[Pink Floyd] was a group that had lost its genius and its spiritual center, and had had to carry on. And, paradoxically, its masterpiece (for that was what I believed “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to be) had been achieved without his help, but in his honor. Syd Barret wasn’t dead, but “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was memorial art. It suggested that I didn’t have to fall into ruin to exemplify the cost of losing someone as enormous as Judith Lethem. My surviving Judith’s death would in no way be to her dishonor. I’d only owe her a great song.
….
[Bob] Dylan and [Philip K.] Dick created bodies of work so contradictory and erratic that they never seemed to have promised me perfection, so they could never disappoint me. Here were artists who hung themselves emotionally out to dry, who risked rage and self-pity in their work, and were sometimes overwhelmed by those feelings and blew it.

What are you giving for the holidays?

I would be giving everyone Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, but it’s still only available in expensive hardcover. The books I planning to give away this year are varied, but the ones that seem to appear most frequently are Urban Tribes, Don’t Think of an Elephant and Tobias Wolff’s Old School. I’m also recommending that anyone who wants to give me something, donate to one of the following organizations: 826 Valencia, 826 NYC, the Webb-Waring Institute, or the International Crisis Group.

Vendela Vida, Andrew Sean Greer, and ZZ Packer

I attended the City Arts & Lectures event featuring those three local authors. Andrew Sean Greer was absolutely hilarious. Greer, btw, spent the past semester teaching at CUNY’s Hunter campus in New York. Speaking of New York, Packer quoted Vida on the difference between the literary environments in San Francisco and Manhattan: “In New York people read reviews of your book. In San Francisco people read your book.” Unfortunately, the event’s moderator Oscar Villalon—the book review editor at the San Francisco Chronicle—did not seem prepared at all for the interview. His questions were general and his comments banal. Sorry, Oscar. We know you love books, but, perhaps, you should stay away from doing these literary interview things. I know, I know, I vowed not to be snarky.

Books on Monday

In addition to buying a bunch of books for gifts, I picked up a few for myself at Kepler’s after Thanksgiving sale.

Books Bought:
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Politics by Hendrik Hertzberg

Books Read:
Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? by Ethan Watters
Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff

Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers, and Thomas Keller

Just a few quick notes from the events I’ve attended recently.

I attended Thomas Keller’s talk at Kepler’s on the 10th. He didn’t bring any food to sample, but he did an excellent round of Q&A. I always ask chefs where they like to eat when they’re down along the Peninsula. Unfortunately, Keller didn’t really have an answer to the question. However, he did note that he stopped at In & Out for a burger during the drive from Napa Valley to Menlo Park.

Earlier this month I saw Jonathan Lethem interviewed at a City Arts and Lectures event in San Francisco. I just decided to go the day of the event; fortunately, someone standing outside the Herbst Theater at 7:55 gave me a free ticket. (I paid him $5, anyway.) At the signing session afterwards I ran into local authors Robert Mailer Anderson and Stephen Elliot. Anderson was decked out in a long leather coat, which he (jokingly?) claimed to have purchased from Sotheby’s. During the interview, Lethem noted that he does most of his writing between May and September. And do you know why? Yes, it’s because he writes while listening to the broadcasts of Mets games on the radio. So, during baseball season, he’s guaranteed to write for three hours a day. Sounds like the perfect life to me.

Another cool piece of information that I took from the event was that when Lethem first moved to Berkeley, he lived on the north side of campus and thought that that little block of Euclid beginning on Hearst was the big downtown area. If you’re familiar with Berkeley, you know what I’m talking about.

And, speaking of the Hearst/Euclid intersection, I just got home from an event at the North Gate building, which is located right there. UC Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism sponsored a talk by John Prendergast entitled “Darfur: How to Respond to Genocide.” Prendergast was lucid and funny and inspiring and just flat out good. He is Special Adviser to the President of the International Crisis Group, and he served under President Clinton during his second term in office. At least that’s the info I got off of Berkeley’s page. If anyone can recommend or pass along any writings by him, please do so. Unfortunately, this being Berkeley, some members of the audience took the liberty to just go off. One guy spent about five minutes just asking a question. Another spent just as long criticizing Prendergrast for not going far enough and examining the “root of the problem.” Oh, well, like I said that’s what you get in Berkeley. The last time I attended a J-School event there was in October when William Kristol debated Mark Danner. As much as I disagree with his politics, I have to admit that Kristol kicked Danner’s ass. Anyway, throughout the debate, people in the audience kept heckling Kristol. Finally, toward the end the UC police took one of them away in cuffs and everyone cheered. A couple years ago I saw Azar Nafisi read at Cody’s and an Iranian woman in the audience just started attacking her for suggesting than Iran oppresses women. Yup, Berkeley.

Back to tonight’s event: Prendergast was introduced by Dave Eggers, who teaches at the J-school and sat alone in the front row diligently taking notes during the seminar. As many of you know, Eggers is working on a biography of one of the “Lost Boys” from Sudan—parts of which have appeared in The Believer.

Books on Monday

It was a sad week for reading and shopping. That’s all I have to say about that.

Books bought:
Paper Lion by George Plimpton

Books read:
Nope, none this week.

Jonathan Franzen and Charlie Brown

Jonathan Franzen has an essay on Charles Schulz in this week’s New Yorker. We have not had a chance to read it yet, but here’s a brief and random paragraph from the piece:

I wonder why “cartoonish” remains such a pejorative. It took me half my life to achieve seeing my parents as cartoons. And to become more perfectly a cartoon myself: what a victory that would be.

Why is everyone talking about Roth’s new novel?

In the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review this week, Martin Rubin asks, Why is everyone talking about Roth’s new novel? Part of his answer:

A considerable measure of its appeal is owing to the book’s unusual transparency. In writing about events that never happened and actions by real people that they never undertook — all of it done with an admirable sense of plausibility that somehow trumps the reader’s knowledge that none of this actually happened — Roth has connected with profound feelings that are, apparently, widespread. It seems ineluctably significant that this work was undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the most contentious and ill-resolved election in our history and that its enormous and coruscating success has much to do with its appearance in our midst as we went to the polls again, as fractious and polarized this time as last.

He goes on to discuss the distorted, candy-coated version of President Roosevelt that Roth portrays in the novel, while noting parallels between GWB and both Roosevelt and Lindbergh.

Delays this week

Sorry for the absence of posts. We know, we know—You’re looking forward to more. We’re on application deadlines this week, unfortunately. However, we would like to encourage everyone to read Jonathan Franzen’s essay on Alice Munro, which appeared as the cover story in this week’s New York Times Book Review. If you made it to the end of that sentence without clicking on the link to the essay, read it now!

As a new feature for Mondays, I will be listing the books I bought and the ones I read during the previous week.

Books bought:
Runaway by Alice Munro
Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff

Books read:
The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney

Herbert’s advice to depressed Democrats

In his NYT column today, Bob Herbert bluntly addressed the despair that many Democrats are feeling following the Bush victory:

Which brings me to the Democrats – the ordinary voters, not the politicians – and where they go from here. I have been struck by the extraordinary demoralization, even dark despair, among a lot of voters who desperately wanted John Kerry to defeat Mr. Bush. “We did all we could,” one woman told me, “and we still lost.”

Here’s my advice: You had a couple of days to indulge your depression – now, get over it. The election’s been lost but there’s still a country to save, and with the current leadership that won’t be easy. Crucial matters that have been taken for granted too long – like the Supreme Court and Social Security – are at risk. Caving in to depression and a sense of helplessness should not be an option when the country is speeding toward an abyss.

Roll up your sleeves and do what you can. Talk to your neighbors. Call or write your elected officials. Volunteer to help in political campaigns. Circulate petitions. Attend meetings. Protest. Run for office. Support good candidates who are running for office. Register people to vote. Reach out to the young and the apathetic. Raise money. Stay informed. And vote, vote, vote – every chance you get.

Democracy is a breeze during good times. It’s when the storms are raging that citizenship is put to the test. And there’s a hell of a wind blowing right now.